They have done it before.
On the Thursday, January 19, 2012 at approximately 6:30pm Cuban prisoner of conscience and opposition activist Wilmar Villar Mendoza died after his kidneys and other organs failed. He died the result of a prolonged hunger strike provoked by outrage over his unjust imprisonment and four year prison sentence issued in a closed-door sham trial on November 24, 2011 by agents of the Castro regime. Amnesty International recognized him as a prisoner of conscience and Human Rights Watch documented that Wilmar was a Cuban opposition activist.
Now the Cuban communist regime is engaging in a campaign to rewrite the life of Wilmar Villar Mendoza from opposition activist arrested for participating in a public protest to an individual who was arrested for physically assaulting his wife and resisting arrest. Sadly, this is not a surprise but standard operating procedure in a dictatorship that survives through systematic lying.
Totalitarian regimes have patterns of conduct. This makes their behavior predictable. Beating up, arresting and imprisoning an innocent man for engaging in the nonviolent exercise of his fundamental human rights is a common practice in the Cuban regime. Political prisoners are subjected to cruel and unusual punishment that amounts to torture. Finally, when a prisoner or dissident dies and the Cuban dictatorship is responsible then the regime engages in a campaign using both government propaganda outlets and agents of influence around the world to deny that the victim was a sincere dissident or adversary and that the Cuban regime is not responsible for his death. If necessary the dictatorship will manufacture "evidence" to makes its "case."
Over the past two years three other high profile deaths in Cuba have been subjected to this posthumous ill treatment of slander and libel:
- On February 23, 2010 Cuban prisoner of conscience and opposition activist Orlando Zapata Tamayo died after 7 years of beatings, torture and lengthening prison terms for continuing his human rights activism while imprisoned. This victim of the dictatorship was then subjected to a campaign of slander by the Castro regime and its agents of influence. They claimed that he was a common criminal and that he had never been a Cuban dissident. Orlando Zapata Tamayo appeared photographed in the Cuban government’s own publication Los Disidentes, in photos prior to his 2003 arrest and was then recognized by Cuban officials as a dissident. The Spanish newspaper El Mundo carried a photo the day after the Cuban regime announced the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo with prominent Cuban dissidents.
- Cuban opposition activist and former political prisoner Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia was badly beaten by Cuban political police on May 5, 2011 and died early on Sunday May 8, 2011. Cuban government agents then denied the circumstances surrounding his death and the regime's complicity in his death combined with the blunt intimidation of the family of the victim.
- Cuban opposition leader and human rights defender Laura Pollán was a co-founder of the Ladies in White and a courageous woman who spoke truth to power and protested in the streets of Cuba demanding an amnesty for Cuban political prisoners. The Castro regime claimed that she was a stateless "traitor." She became ill and died within the space of a week under circumstances that raise the question of foul play by the Castro regime. Following her death the regime's official media began a campaign asserting that she was a common criminal. A woman who had been a school teacher, before her husband's imprisonment in 2003 (for his position as an independent journalist), was a figure of admiration both inside and outside of Cuba.
In addition to continue the effort to hold the dictatorship in Cuba responsible for its crimes that activists will also have to coordinate better in serving as media watchdogs to ensure that totalitarian propaganda not be passed of as news. Thanks to Twitter and Facebook it is far easier to expose both the crimes of the regime and the failures of the international news media to a large audience in real time. There is much work to do and lives depend on it.